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Watch‘s Tom Fischer interview Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton above from the major announcement today.

BREAKING BOURBON NEWS: In 2013, Buffalo Trace reported a theft involving a batch of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and whiskey worth $26,000. This heist was sometimes referred to as “Pappy Gate” as it captured international attention. A dedicated Kentucky sheriff and his investigators vowed to solve the crime because you don’t mess with nor steal fine Kentucky Bourbon.

Today, attended an important press conference at Franklin County Sheriff’s Office as Sheriff Pat Melton announced a grand jury just handed down nine indictments in this case involving a criminal syndicate – which we have decided to dub the “Great Bourbon Syndicate.”
Sheriff_pat_melton_pappySheriff Melton explained that the Bourbon Syndicate’s activities date back to 2008 when a number of friends and acquaintances from a softball league decided they would give crime a try. With three of the nine syndicate members working for either Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey, their employment provided them access to sneaking both bottles and barrels of bourbon out.

While there is no official estimate, the Bourbon Syndicate may have sold and stolen over $100,000 worth of bourbon including the entire Pappy Van Winkle collection, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey and more. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zachary Becker says that this is a conservative estimate. Additionally, the syndicate was also selling illegal anabolic steroids which they had sourced in part from China.

Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, who is believed to be the syndicate ring leader, was charged in the Wild Turkey theft in March 2015 after five stolen barrels of Wild Turkey Bourbon were found on his property. Curtsinger’s wife, Julie Curtsinger, was also indicted by the grand jury today and local residents we spoke with say she has been involved in selling steroids for a number of years.

Eagle Rare 17 stolenThe Franklin County Sheriff’s Office had scheduled a major announcement the past few weeks for both April 14 and April 7. However, a break in the case came which allowed further investigation when a barrel of stolen Eagle Rare 17-year-old was discovered with “strong ties” to Gilbert Thomas Curtsinger. One investigator told us today, “They were trying to bottle many of the bourbons at home, including this Eagle Rare. Unfortunately, with the Eagle Rare they were adding caramel flavoring to it…what a shame.”

In total,18 barrels of bourbon have been seized thus far which have included five Wild Turkey barrels. Authorities told a room full of journalists today that they believe other barrels of stolen bourbon may be out there. “They were selling the barrels of bourbon for way below market value,” says Melton. For example, the barrel of Eagle Rare 17 said to be worth $11,000 was sold to an individual for only a few thousand dollars (Eagle Rare Barrel evidence pictured left).

One of the stolen barrels on display as evidence at the conference was believed to be a Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old because of its specific markings from Stitzel-Weller. Additionally, home bottled jars and jugs of bourbon were found in the homes of the suspects. This particular display of whiskey at the press conference looked more like an illegal moonshining operation rather than that of fine bourbon.

Stolen Pappy evidenceNot only did the syndicate steal Pappy Van Winkle 20-yaer-old and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye as originally reported, bbut almost every expression in the Van Winkle collection was stolen at some point. A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 year-old was displayed as evidence today

So what will happen to all of this stolen bourbon? “It will be destroyed,” explains Melton. “While we’d like to tell you its all bourbon in these barrels and do something with it, there would be no way of telling what else had been added.” With regard to the bottles of stolen Pappy Van Winkle, Melton says he would like to see it returned to the Van Winkle Family. The multiple bourbon thefts involve a number of jurisdictions and this is an ongoing investigation.

In an emotional moment at the press conference, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton praised his team and other partners including Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office.

Take a look back at the story and the timeline of events from our coverage on below. Subscribe to our Bourbon Newsletter for more updates on this case.

We first told you about the Pappy Van Winkle heist in October 2013 and have followed the story closely on with highlights that have taken us from the Bardstown Kentucky High School Principal being listed as a person of interest in the case to the offer of the $10,000 reward.

Those indicted today include:

Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, 45 of Frankfort – Who worked for Buffalo Trace

Pappy Gate Home Jars Jugs Christopher Preston, 45 of Frankfort – Who worked for Buffalo Trace

Shawn Ballard, 30 of Richmond – Who worked for Wild Turkey

Julie M. Curtsinger, 43 of Frankfort

Mark Searcy, 49 of Lawrenceburg

Ronnie Lee Hubbard, 37 of Georgetown;

Dusty Adkins, 42 of Georgetown

Joshua Preston, 23 of Frankfort

Robert M. McKinney, 66 of Frankfort

Joint Statement from Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey

Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey have been working in full cooperation with the investigation of the Franklin County and Anderson County sheriffs’ offices. We thank the authorities for their efforts on this case and appreciate their swift, thorough detective work to get this in Wild Turkey Buffalo Tracefront of the Grand Jury as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.

We take this matter very seriously and support the prosecution of anyone found in violation of state or federal government laws related to our businesses.

As this is an ongoing investigation, we have no further comments at this time and will refer all questions to Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton.

Timeline of Events in Pappy Theft Case from 2013 to Present

10-16-2013 – Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon reported stolen, first interview with Sheriff Melton   – is first to ask about a possible reward, which is offered later.

10-18-2013  Spotting the Stolen Pappy – is first to raise the question of recorded strip stamp numbers on the bottles of stolen Pappy to aid detectives and consumers in identifying the stolen bottles from any other bottle of Pappy. This is a question that is yet unanswered to this day.
Bourbon Syndicate stolen barrel10-23-2013 Surveillance Footage released  – public asked for help in locating “person of interest.”

10-24-2013 Interview with Liquor Store Where Pappy Suspect Was Caught on Camera – is first to identify Package & More Liquor Store as the location where the “person of interest” was captured on surveillance.

10-27-2013 Bardstown High Principal Chris Pickett Identified as Man in Pappy Surveillance Video

10-28-2013 BourbonBlog interviews Attorney of Chris Pickett  – First interview of its kind with attorney for Chris Pickett.

11-24-2013 Bardstown High School Principal No Longer Person of Interest, interview with Sheriff Melton 

12-02-2013 $10,000 Reward Offered in Pappy Theft Case

04-03-2014 Five Whiskey Worth Stealing organizes historic tasting of other rare bourbons and whiskeys.

12-14-2014 Sheriff Believes He Knows Identity of the “Pappy Thief.” Interview with Sheriff Melton 

03-12-2015 Wild Turkey Bourbon Theft Suspect Arrested, Pappy Van Winkle Connection? Interview with Sheriff Melton 

Video filmed and edited by Will Hartstock.


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